RECIPES: Pork Tenderloin with Five-Spice Powder and Peppers

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The simplicity of this recipe belies its complex flavors – don’t underestimate the power of five-spice powder. This blend, in existence for centuries in China, successfully balances basic tastes of sour, bitter, sweet, pungent and salty through spices like fennel, star anise, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns and cinnamon. Canola oil’s neutral flavor showcases this glorious spice blend.


  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste 30 mL
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce 30 mL
  • 1/2 tsp coarse kosher or sea salt 2 mL
  • 2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder 10 mL
  • 1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2-inch (1-cm) cubes 500 g
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch 30 mL
  • 1/4 cup canola oil 60 mL
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger 30 mL
  • 1 large red bell pepper, stem and seeds discarded, cut into 1/2-inch (1-cm) cubes
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems 30 mL
  • 3 scallions (green tops and white bulbs), sliced into 1-inch (2.5-cm) pieces


  1. In small bowl, stir together tomato paste, soy sauce, salt and five-spice powder.
  2. In medium bowl, toss pork and cornstarch together.
  3. Heat wok, large skillet or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over high heat. Drizzle 2 Tbsp (30 mL) canola oil down sides of wok. When oil forms shimmering pool in bottom of wok, add pork and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until pork turns slightly brown yet still pink in center, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer pork to plate.
  4. Trickle remaining 2 Tbsp (30 mL) canola oil down sides of wok and quickly stir-fry garlic, ginger and bell pepper until some pepper starts to blister, 5 to 8 minutes. Add tomato paste mixture and stir to warm it, about 30 seconds.
  5. Return pork to wok, including any juices from plate, and stir well to combine ingredients and season meat and vegetable with aromatic sauce. Once pork feels hot to touch, 2 to 4 minutes, stir in cilantro and scallions, and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings. Serving Size: 1 cup (250 mL).

Cook’s Tips: Most supermarkets and Asian grocery stores carry a five-spice powder blend. If not, make your own by combining 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) fennel seeds, 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) whole cloves, 1 1/2 tsp (7 mL) Sichuan peppercorns (or 2 tsp/10 mL ground), six star anise (or 2 tsp/10 mL ground) and three 3-inch (7.5-cm) long cinnamon sticks, broken into smaller pieces, in a spice grinder. Grind until the texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper. Some of China’s signature dishes, such as Peking duck, barbecued spare ribs and roast pork, are flavored with this classic blend. Other five-spice powders may include cardamom, cassia (instead of cinnamon), ginger, nutmeg and even licorice root.

If doubling or tripling this recipe, cook the dish in two or three separate batches to retain that wok-seared, smoky flavor. If you overcrowd the pan, the ingredients will be stewed as opposed to stir-fried and seared, and the consequence will be blah-tasting fare.

Nutritional Analysis per Serving:

Calories 300

Total Fat 17 g

Saturated Fat 2 g

Cholesterol 75 mg

Carbohydrates 11 g

Fiber 1 g

Sugars 4 g

Protein 26 g

Sodium 550 mg

Potassium 602 mg